Friday, 24 December 2010

Away from home and hearth

High noon behind the tamarisks—the sun is hot above us—
As at Home the Christmas Day is breaking wan.
They will drink our healths at dinner—those who tell us how they love us,
And forget us till another year be gone!
Oh the toil that knows no breaking! Oh the Heimweh, ceaseless, aching!
Oh the black dividing Sea and alien Plain!
Youth was cheap—wherefore we sold it.
Gold was good—we hoped to hold it,
And to-day we know the fulness of our gain.

Black night behind the tamarisks—the owls begin their chorus—
As the conches from the temple scream and bray.
With the fruitless years behind us, and the hopeless years before us,
Let us honour, O my brother, Christmas Day!
Call a truce, then, to our labours—let us feast with friends and neighbours,
And be merry as the custom of our caste;
For if "faint and forced the laughter," and if sadness follow after,
We are richer by one mocking Christmas past.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

I emphatically commend this to you

No post from me today, but anything I did post wouldn't touch the impact of this post by Jackart; burying my anger, I can add nothing to his reasoned questioning. I emphatically commend that you read it and watch and listen to the recording.  

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Cable's humiliation

One imagines Vince Cable as he wakes this morning jamming his knuckles in his mouth and frog-hopping across the bedroom floor in the manner of vintage John Cleese. The silly sod would probably give anything to be able to turn back time. It's taken just 48 hours for Cable to go from Mr Clean to Mr Bean, destroying not just his own reputation but neutering the voice of the LibDem conscience in government. He now joins Charlie Kennedy in the ranks of political suicides. His self-destruction should now allow Cameron a little more shoulder room to push forward more Conservatively slanted policy. Nice one, Vince.  

New mood of violence

A recent ComRes poll has found that Generation Y are getting more militant; 40% of 18 - 24 year olds think that violent demonstrations are justified if politicians fail to keep their promises, compared to 20% of the population as a whole. Most in support of street violence describe themselves as Labour voters. However, most of us won't be sorry if they get a drenching; 64% support the use of water cannon against violent protesters with only 22% opposing use. 


It seems there will be plenty to keep PC Delroy Smellie busy over 2011. 

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

RAF airfields clear - BAA in chaos

I've just been reminded that the nation's air defence hasn't stopped because of a little snow; it seems that RAF runways, taxiways, aprons and shelters across the country have somehow miraculously been kept clear of snow. Actually, it's nothing miraculous. Unlike BAA, they've just invested in the necessary equipment, none of it high-tech. Perhaps if the tossers at BAA spent less time wondering how to shoehorn more retail outlets into the departure terminals and more time on moving aircraft efficiently, the UK wouldn't be the world's laughing stock.

  

Things in the sky

A blood-red Moon is not a good omen; in years past it would be believed to herald war, famine, plague and pestilence. Perhaps a good reminder to arrange that flu-jab today. On the upside, from 23.38 today the days get longer. Today we'll have about 7h50m of daylight in London, and about the same over the next few days as the change gets sluggishly up to speed, but by the end of January we'll be up to 9h7m, with three or four minutes a day extra. Now isn't that something to look forward to? 

Polly is confused. Again.

Lady Toynbee rather crassly attempts to link the number of people who will avoid the Census next year and Cameron's correction of electorally corrupt constituency boundaries. It's the usual Toynbee whingeing - everything is a plot to do down the poor and, er, Labour voters. Yes, a whole range of people will break the law and refuse to give their details to the government's Census enumerators; some of these will be committed Libertarians, wary of the State, some will be criminals and wanted persons, illegal immigrants, the bankrupt and fugitives from civil justice, some will be in illicit relationships, or in hiding from their families or partners. Most of those who will avoid the census report will do so deliberately. Since they face a penalty of £1,000 for non-completion, they will have reasoned that the risk is worth it, that the alternatives are worse. It's a freely made choice. And yes, where tax-funded services are rationed on the basis of the census figures, those areas with large numbers of census absconders will lose out. But what the Hell does Toynbee want the State to do? Break down every door and force the population to disclose their details at the end of an electric cattle prod?


In case Polly hasn't worked it out, registering to vote is a different process altogether. Her claim that "Getting the census right and registering all voters is vitally important" is either a telling piece of illiteracy (are instead of is) or reflects an insane belief that the two are a single process. Registering to vote is wholly voluntary, and there's no penalty for not doing so. Michael Pinto-Duschinshy has estimated that of 45m registered voters, there are 3.5m missing who could be there - but also 3.5m who shouldn't be there. Individual voter registration will hopefully make inroads into the fraudulent and fake registrations, but those unregistered to vote are a different matter. The greatest incentive to appearing on the electoral register is the whole range of civil financial and transactional facilities that require registration; we don't need legislation, the banks and store cards are doing the work. To absent oneself from the electoral register is akin to civil non-being. Those who do so will have their reasons; a few may be ideological, but most will be people who simply don't want to be found. 

Monday, 20 December 2010

Korea December 1950 - the great Bug Out

In December 1950 Korea was experiencing some of the lowest winter temperatures ever. As the British 29th Brigade bivvied on bleak hill positions, the night time temperature dropped to -38C. As ever, winter clothing and equipment was sub-standard; 'Finnish pattern' winter boots that had been in store since 1919 disintegrated almost as soon as they were issued, wind smocks were not waterproof and rifles and machine guns had to be dried of all traces of oil and grease, which froze and jammed the weapons - they would only work completely 'dry' under those conditions. Rice straw in the tents and dugouts, lining tank hulls and crammed into clothing helped stave off frostbite. Engines needed to be run every twenty minutes. As if the cold wasn't enough, the lads of the Glosters, the Ulster Rifles and the Northumberland Fusiliers, not forgetting the Hussars and 45 RA, were put in the line to rearguard the US 8th Army; beaten, panicked and in full retreat in what became known as the Great Bug Out.  


The septics were in full flight and burning and destroying everything they couldn't carry. Demoralised further by the death of their 8th Army commander, General Walker, in a traffic accident, morale was shot and chaos and defeatism ruled. The British 29th Brigade was one of the few units that could be relied upon, but as Christmas approached, the Chinese advance appeared unstoppable. Men like my father, who had been on almost constant active service since 1939, wondered whether they'd make it this time. It seemed unlikely. 

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Now I know why the wine was foul

I don't take up invitations to government departmental receptions these days. I went to a couple in years past - one at the Home Office, one at the Department of the Environment, and the format was similar. Mid afternoon. A large, open room with a podium at one end, lined with buffet tables serving red, white or orange juice, a hundred or so guests, forty minutes of mingling then the minister entered with the VIP guest (presumably following a long lunch together), short speeches from each, the code / leaflet / scheme launched, a smatter of polite applause. Ten minutes of glad-handing from the minister as he made his way to the lift shepherded by civil servants. So why don't I go any more? These are just the sort of networking events a diligent chap might welcome, you may ask. Well, it's the wine. It was dreadful.


Catching my sour grimace, a fellow guest commented, holding his own glass of red for inspection, "I think the caterers are making a few bob on this". The labels were respectable, but the wine was foul. I always put it down to civil servants having no idea of what wine should taste like, but oh how wrong can one be. It now emerges from an FOI request that these receptions are staged for one reason only - to quietly get rid of the government wine committee's buying mistakes.


It could have been the 1er Cru Cotes de Beaune described as 'clunky and stewed, OK with duck' or the St Aubin Burgundy described as 'poor, suitable for receptions only' or another 'boring, ugly and disappointing' Burgundy, or any other of the C-list wines that civil servants thought could be quietly drunk by construction industry guests without notice. One can imagine the phone calls. "Claude? I've got thirty cases of a truly disgusting claret .. can you set up a reception for the motor manufacturing industry?".


Predictably, Tom Watson is calling for the contents of the government wine cellar to be sold off, but he's quite wrong. Apart from the mistakes that we got to drink, the committee, no doubt made up of wine hobbyist senior civil servants, has made some spectacularly sound investments. The value of the cellar is a pittance at £2m, and it enables the UK to serve A-list wines to really important guests at a fraction of the cost we would pay if they were bought as-required from wine merchants. Their good buying decisions are very good indeed, and have vintners slavering in jealousy. But please don't ask me to help hide the little mistakes any more - life's too short for bad wine.